D.C. official accused of conflict of interest

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Local,DC,Alan Blinder

An advisory neighborhood commissioner voted to support three resolutions that pressed the D.C. government to lower the tax bill for a building whose tenants group she leads, spurring a complaint that she might have violated the city's conflict of interest rules.

Along with serving in elected office in Ward 1, Yasmin Romero-Castillo is president of the 3145 Mt. Pleasant St. Tenants' Association. The property formerly housed the Deauville Apartments until a fire destroyed the complex in 2008. The city later issued a $4 million loan to the residents group to purchase the property and rebuild.

The association has since struggled to come up with the funding to pay for the project.

But in May, ANC1D, the panel on which Romero-Castillo serves, pushed to make the reconstruction cheaper when the commission backed three resolutions designed to lobby city officials to support tax breaks for the project.

Two proposals involved requesting that the District approve tax credits for the project, while another asked the Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs to avoid designating the property as blighted or vacant.

Romero-Castillo voted for the trio of resolutions at the commission's May 15 meeting, city records show.

But word surfaced of Romero-Castillo's ties to the property and her votes, and the commission reconsidered the resolutions a week later.

"Although I do not feel that I have any sort of a conflict of interest, I hear that other people think that I do," Romero-Castillo said in a statement she signed at the special session. "Therefore, to be sure that the ANC's vote on this property is not jeopardized, I will not participate in the discussion and I will not vote on it."

The commission approved all of the resolutions again.

But Terry Lynch, a prolific civic activist, said the new vote wasn't enough to absolve Romero-Castillo of wrongdoing and filed a complaint with the city's Office of Campaign Finance.

"I think the revote perhaps does it correctly, but it doesn't address or clarify why they would have taken the first one," Lynch said. "It's akin to what we see with the airports authority board, using their position, at least in my opinion, for self-benefit or the benefit of one of their own members."SClBThe Washington Examiner has previously detailed repeated instances of the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority awarding contracts to insiders.

Earlier this month, campaign finance regulators said they were

conducting a probe of Romero-Castillo, but a spokesman did not respond to a request for a comment about the investigation's status.

In a brief interview with The Examiner, Romero-Castillo characterized Lynch's complaint as "a witch hunt" because she had sought to rectify any possibly improprieties.

"We are clear," she said. "I'm clear."

ablinder@washingtonexaminer.com

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Alan Blinder

Staff Reporter, D.C. City Hall
The Washington Examiner